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California genetic food vote is no victory for science - New Scientist (2012)

California genetic food vote is no victory for science - New Scientist (2012) | Ag Biotech News |

... Nearly a billion people go hungry because they cannot grow or buy enough food. And there are problems with the food we do eat. An estimated 2 billion people suffer from a lack of iron, causing everything from tiredness to premature death. Around 250 million preschool children are short of vitamin A, leading to blindness in the worst cases.


The outlook is grimmer still. There will be ever more mouths to feed, and ever more challenges facing farmers. Fuel and fertilisers are becoming more costly, soils are eroding or becoming saline, pests and diseases are evolving to outwit our defences. To add to our woes, the climate is changing and the weather becoming more extreme. In fact, farming is a massive part of this problem - it contributes more to global warming than all the world's cars, trains, ships and planes put together. Rising food prices not only cause suffering, but also threaten political stability.


So the world desperately needs better crops. The good news is that they can be improved dramatically. We know it's possible to boost yields by improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, for instance, because some plants have already evolved this improvement. Similarly, there's no doubt we could create crops that need less water, grow in salt water or make their own nitrogen fertiliser, for instance. As for making grains and fruits richer in iron or vitamin A, it's already been done.


So why aren't people in poor countries already eating healthier food, richer in iron and vitamin A? Partly they can't afford to pay for it, so commercial companies have little incentive to develop such crops. Instead, such work has to be funded by public money or philanthropists such as Bill Gates. A big part of the problem, of course, is the vociferous objection to GM foods... The opposition to GM crops is making it much harder to get funding to carry out the necessary research and to get over all the regulatory hurdles... 


The Monsantos of this world have the economic muscle needed to get crops approved despite protests, but for cash-strapped universities, it's a different story. Their development of the crops we so desperately need is being impeded by anti-GM protesters.


How can this opposition be overcome? Not by rational argument, that's for sure. Even for those who understand that nature is the ultimate mad scientist, and that plants are riddled with all kinds of genetic modifications, from mistakes made during DNA replication to insertions of viral DNA, it doesn't make existing GM crops any more appealing. Rather, we need to win people's hearts as well as their minds. 


... we need a new generation of GM crops that offers clear benefits to consumers, from looking better to tasting better to being better for us. Scare stories about cellphones causing cancer didn't stop them taking off because they are so useful. Similarly, scare stories about GM foods will lose their power if GM products that help prevent cancer or heart disease can be bought in supermarkets...


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Bringing light into the discussion about GMOs? – A rather long reading list

[updated 16 May, 2015]  


These days I received an apparently easy request: “Do you have any recommendations for reading about the debate on GMOs? I think there is a lot of heat, but too little light in the discussion; I trust you can send me some…” To which I answered carelessly: “Sure, I will look into it, select a few references and post them…” 


I thought I’d have a quick look into my collection of bookmarks and references and post some of the links to satisfy the request. Obviously there would be too many individual studies and crop-specific or country-specific reports, but focusing only (i) on what was published in recent years, (ii) on sources where all this information was already aggregated (literature reviews, meta-analyses, authoritative statements, FAQs, etc.), and (iii) on academic or publicly funded sources should produce a fairly concise list, I thought. 


While not unmanageable, the list has become quite long. To get a rough idea of the current state of knowledge, it may be sufficient to peruse the first 1-2 (starred *) references under each heading, and to have a quick look at the abstracts and summaries of some of the others. (Given the controversy surrounding this topic I did not want to suggest just one or two sources, but show a bit the width of the scientific consensus, and to offer some titbits of related information.) ...


Jennifer Mach's comment, March 30, 2013 9:05 AM
I admit I haven't read this list... but for future reference, I'll definitely have a look.
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More Food Safety Issues Popping Up on WTO Committee Agenda - Food Safety News (2015)

More Food Safety Issues Popping Up on WTO Committee Agenda - Food Safety News (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

New food safety-related issues on the agenda at the World Trade Organization’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures. 


China... plans to amend its safety assessment of agricultural genetically modified food and feed... China’s current GMO approval process is marked by delays and a lack of transparency... It is a serious concern for exporters, and anything that would further prolong or complicate China’s approval process would concern the WTO... 

The European Union’s approval process for biotech or GMO products also came in for critical reviews... The amendment would allow EU member states to restrict or ban biotech or GMO products without having any justified reasons... the EU amendment would amount to being an unfair barrier on international trade.

EU representatives said the European proposal is not a ban or restriction on GMO food, but only provides a possibility for EU member states to opt out... their amendment does not involve life or health of humans, plants or animal, and therefore does not merit wider notice.


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Be negative or shut up - genetic engineering in the media - Sci Blogs (2015)

[Slightly edited machine translation]

Electromagnetic pollution: May a wireless router cause brain damage? Only if you get beaten on the head with it. At least that is the belief of an acquaintance of mine. He is a university professor in the field of telecommunications... He told me recently told that he was invited to a discussion program of the Austrian Broadcast Corporation a few years ago... about electromagnetic radiation and its potential impact on our health. It would have been his clear position that mobile phone radiation can have no health effects on humans. When he explained this the organisers, they disinvited him promptly. Ironically, by mobile phone.

The other day something similar happened to me. I gave an interview for an Austrian TV station. It was about an issue that perhaps has the highest rate of "new enemies per minute speaking time": Genetically modified (GM) foods. An inexhaustible field about which one could talk for hours. The interview was mainly about a specific point, though - the health effects. Regardless of what one thinks of genetic engineering in general, there are a few facts that you can pin down and I have also referred to them during the interview.

- GM foods are by far the most studied food in the world.

- After 20 years of GM foods not a single case is known, in which a human would have suffered health damage.

- In India alone, there are annually more than one million fewer cases of poisoning among farmers, since insect-resistant GM cotton is grown...

- The scientific consensus in favor of the health safety of authorized GMOs is overwhelming. This is the conclusion of, inter alia, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the...

But one isn't allowed to say that... I received an email from them in which I was thanked for the recording. Unfortunately it will not be broadcast on the grounds that it did not suit them "that we pointed out the safety of GMOs." At least they are honest. In future maybe I'm going to add "But you should not play God" to each argument so as not to annoy anyone. 

I've found that many people have had similar experiences. "All-clear" messages have much more difficulty finding their way into the media than those crying wolf. This makes a reasonable, public debate very difficult. I think that the gap between scientific consensus and public opinion on GMOs is strongly connected to distorting media. I remember the big media outcry in response to a study of the French researcher Gilles-Éric Séralini... 

But enough whining. Blogs hopefully help correcting this distortion to some extent. I would therefore warmly recommend this site to everybody interested in GM food:



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Is Monsanto Satan? The Pleasure and Problem of Conspiracy Theory - AlterNet (2015)

Belief in Satan... has faded over the centuries... But Satan has not disappeared. We need him too much. In the ongoing struggle with inexplicable suffering, there is no greater comfort than finding a target for simple, righteous blame. And so the list of Infernal Names, now secularized, grows ever longer: Big Government, Big Business, Big Pharma, Big Food. These are complex systems, of course – too complex to serve as satisfying scapegoats. But through the alchemy of capital letters we transform them into fairy-tale caricatures of corruption and deceit, villains that help to make sense of it all.

My own Satan has always been Big Business. For many years, I nurtured a hatred of profit-driven corporations and banks, engines of greed that deploy deceitful agents to visit iniquity on an unsuspecting public... I saw my own occupation – professor of religious studies – as ideally situated for objective critique. I had traded the hollow promise of great riches for the intrinsic good of seeking truth. So it came as quite a shock when people began calling me one of Satan’s minions.

It all started with MSG. While I was living abroad in China, I found that many expatriates insisted they were highly sensitive to MSG, yet multiple double-blind, placebo-controlled trials had led allergists to conclude MSG sensitivity is largely psychosomatic... What surprised me was the dogmatic fervor with which my companions denied these findings. I noticed that similar dogmatism attends most debates about diet and health, and my fascination with the quasi-religious foundations of culinary culture led me to write various articles and a book

The accusations began almost immediately. Again and again, online commenters accused me of being paid by Big Food to spread propaganda. And while Big Food consists of quite a few multinational corporations, commenters most often blamed my corruption on Monsanto, the agricultural biotechnology giant... Like most people, I knew how bad Monsanto really was, despite not having thought too hard about it... But there was one story I didn’t believe, because I knew it wasn’t true: Monsanto hadn’t paid me.


So I did what any academic or journalist would do, and started learning more about the company that supposedly had me on its payroll. In the process, I discovered that very little coverage of Monsanto included extensive discussions with representatives of the company. When it did, or when the coverage wasn’t completely negative, comment threads exploded with accusations of bribery. In one high-profile example, anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva suggested that journalist Michael Specter and The New Yorker were Monsanto shills after Specter published a less-than-flattering profile of her activism.

David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, responded to Shiva’s criticism... by acknowledging the futility of arguing with someone who believes in a great deceiver possessed of near-infinite power. “I should say... that since you have said that the entire scientific establishment has been bought and paid for by Monsanto, I fear it will be difficult to converse meaningfully about your accusation that the story contained ‘fraudulent assertions and deliberate attempts to skew reality.’”

This is why believing in Satan is so dangerous – and so tempting: If he really exists, we can protect our most deeply held beliefs by blaming any opposition on the work of a great deceiver. There is no need for dialogue. In fact, dialogue is inadvisable, because the deceiver is so powerful that any contact risks corruption. Best to avoid it entirely, lest you end up like Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who changed his mind on GMOs after visiting Monsanto.

Under most circumstances, the reasonable explanation would be that Nye was persuaded by argument and evidence. But for those who believe in Monsatan, the better – the only – explanation is that Nye was coerced...

Shiva’s logic... is really just the logic of conspiracy: simple, irrefutable, and empowering... [The conspiracy theorist’s view] is frightening because it magnifies the power of evil, leading in some cases to an outright dualism in which light and darkness struggle for cosmic supremacy. At the same time, however, it is reassuring, for it promises a world that is meaningful rather than arbitrary. Not only are events nonrandom, but the clear identification of evil gives the conspiracist a definable enemy against which to struggle, endowing life with purpose.

Unfortunately, reassuring narratives of good and evil are incapable of communicating complicated realities. Annie’s Naturals is owned by General Mills; Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox. Merck has defrauded the government; it has also developed a remarkable cure for hepatitis C. Independent university researchers – and activists! – can falsify data; corporate researchers can do excellent, unbiased work.

Monsanto may well be as bad as its detractors assert (tobacco companies certainly proved worse than anyone imagined). But the current climate makes it impossible to find out. Widespread belief in Monsanto’s irredeemably evil nature discourages unbiased reporting. I know this because I experienced it myself. 

For a time, I wanted to write about the company being blamed for my work. I interviewed scientists who had worked there. A complicated picture emerged, of a large (but not too large—about the size of Whole Foods) multinational that employed a wide variety of people, some of whom cared mainly about making money, and others who cared mainly about doing good science. I saw a company that litigated fiercely, but no more fiercely than Sony, Disney, or Apple... 

But then I realized I would never write that story. It wasn’t worth it. Why risk associating myself, even in passing, with Satan? ... “There’s a real problem. If you don’t want to be a biased reporter, you have to talk to Monsanto, but just talking to them will be perceived as selling out. You can’t do the same piece that a tech reporter might do about Apple – even though Apple is the biggest corporation in the world and much more litigious.”

This is tremendously problematic, not least because it means the public conversation about important issues will be dominated by zealots... Journalists, editors, and publishers care about accuracy, but they also worry about their audience. When that audience insists on believing in Satan, stories will be far more likely to feature him – even if he doesn’t exist... 

The solution... we should remember that purity of vision usually reflects ignorance, not reality. We should challenge our own presuppositions, the better to challenge those of our audience. And we should never make the conspiracist’s mistake, and fear that contact with the enemy can only end in corruption...


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Researchers find U.S. breast milk is glyphosate free - Washington State U (2015)

Researchers find U.S. breast milk is glyphosate free - Washington State U (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Washington State University scientists have found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, does not accumulate in mother’s breast milk. Michelle McGuire... is the lead researcher of the study, which is the first to have its results independently verified by an accredited, outside organization.

Her findings, presented at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Conference... show that glyphosate, the most used weed-killing chemical in the world, does not accumulate over time in human milk... The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is using the study as part of an ongoing review of glyphosate regulations prompted by public concern over a controversial report on the chemical released by the advocacy group, Moms Across America... 

“The Moms Across America study flat out got it wrong,” said McGuire, who is an executive committee member for the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation and a national spokesperson for the American Society for Nutrition. “Our study provides strong evidence that glyphosate is not in human milk. The MAA findings are unverified, not consistent with published safety data and are based off an assay designed to test for glyphosate in water, not breast milk.”


A large body of scientific evidence shows breast feeding offers unparalleled nutritional and immunological benefits for both mothers and children. Taking this into consideration, you can imagine the consternation McGuire, a lactation physiologist with more than 25 years of research experience, felt when a study by activists publicly called into question the safety and healthfulness of breast milk... 


Independent regulatory and safety assessments of glyphosate conducted by scientists at organizations like the  National Institutes of Health, the German Agency for Risk Assessment and the Georgetown University School of Medicine have found no consistent effects of glyphosate exposure on reproductive health or developing offspring.


In McGuire’s research, she and her colleagues collected milk and urine samples from 41 lactating women living in... area is a highly productive agricultural region where glyphosate is routinely used in farming practices. Ten of the women reported living on or directly adjacent to a farm or ranch... 5 had personally mixed or applied glyphosate sometime in the past.


Milk and urine samples were analyzed for glyphosate and glyphosate metabolites using high sensitivity liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry methods specifically optimized for the task. The study detected neither glyphosate nor any glyphosate metabolites in any milk sample... Urinary glyphosate levels were either non-existent or extremely low and not of concern... Additionally, no relationship was found between subjects who self-identified as consumers of conventionally grown foods instead of organics and urinary glyphosate levels. Nor was there a difference between women who lived on or near a farm and those who lived in an urban or suburban non-farming area...

“In conclusion, our data – obtained using sophisticated and validated methods of analyses – strongly suggest that glyphosate does not bioaccumulate and is not present in human milk even when the mother has detectable glyphosate in her urine... These findings emphasize the critical importance of carefully validating laboratory methods to the biological matrix of interest, especially when it is as complex as human milk.”


Conference presentation: "Evidence that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, is not present in human milk." Michelle (Shelley) McGuire, PhD, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA.

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Africa needs streamlined regulation to support the deployment of GM crops - Atkinson &al (2015) - Trends Biotechnol

Africa needs streamlined regulation to support the deployment of GM crops - Atkinson &al (2015) - Trends Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News |

Future food security in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) requires enhancement of its crop production. Transgenic crops with a poverty focus can enhance harvests and are available for staples such as cooking bananas and plantains. One constraint is optimisation of national biosafety processes to support rapid and safe uptake of such beneficial crops.



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Self-Proclaimed Experts More Vulnerable to the Illusion of Knowledge - Association for Psychological Science (2015)

Self-Proclaimed Experts More Vulnerable to the Illusion of Knowledge - Association for Psychological Science (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

New research reveals that the more people think they know about a topic in general, the more likely they are to allege knowledge of completely made-up information and false facts, a phenomenon known as “overclaiming”... 

To find out why people make these spurious claims, Atir and colleagues... designed a series of experiments testing people’s self-perceived knowledge, comparing it to their actual expertise... 

Participants were asked to rate their general knowledge of personal finance, as well as their knowledge of 15 specific finance terms... the researchers also included three made-up terms... As expected, people who saw themselves as financial wizards were most likely to claim expertise of the bogus finance terms.

“The more people believed they knew about finances... the more likely they were to overclaim knowledge of the fictitious financial terms... The same pattern emerged for other domains, including biology... For instance... people’s assessment of how much they know about a particular biological term will depend in part on how much they think they know about biology in general.”


In another experiment, the researchers warned one set of 49 participants that some of the terms in a list would be made up. Even after receiving the warning, the self-proclaimed experts were more likely to confidently claim familiarity with fake terms, such as “meta-toxins” and “bio-sexual.” 

To confirm that people’s self-perceived expertise was driving their overclaiming, the research team manipulated participants’ sense of knowledge mastery through a geography quiz... those people who had taken the easy quiz, and concluded they were more knowledgeable about US geography, were more likely... to claim they were knowledgeable about non-existent locations, such as Cashmere, Oregon... 

A tendency to overclaim, especially in self-perceived experts, may actually discourage individuals from educating themselves in precisely those areas in which they consider themselves knowledgeable – leading to potentially disastrous outcomes. For example, failure to recognize or admit one’s knowledge gaps in the realm of... medicine could easily lead to uninformed decisions with devastating consequences for individuals...


Original article:


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"A tendency to overclaim, especially in self-perceived experts, may actually discourage individuals from educating themselves in precisely those areas in which they consider themselves knowledgeable – leading to potentially disastrous outcomes. For example, failure to recognize or admit one’s knowledge gaps in the realm of... medicine could easily lead to uninformed decisions with devastating consequences for individuals..." 

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The Misleading War on GMOs: The Food Is Safe. The Rhetoric Is Dangerous - Slate (2015)

The Misleading War on GMOs: The Food Is Safe. The Rhetoric Is Dangerous - Slate (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Is genetically engineered food dangerous? Many people seem to think it is. In the past five years, companies have submitted more than 27,000 products to the Non-GMO Project, which certifies goods that are free of genetically modified organisms. Last year, sales of such products nearly tripled... Some environmentalists and public interest groups want to go further... 


The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all declared that there’s no good evidence GMOs are unsafe. Hundreds of studies back up that conclusion. But many of us don’t trust these assurances. We’re drawn to skeptics who say that there’s more to the story, that some studies have found risks associated with GMOs, and that Monsanto is covering it up.


I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.


Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement – that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food – is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes.


Third, there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents. But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering isn’t a thing. It’s a process that can be used in different ways to create different things. To think clearly about GMOs, you have to distinguish among the applications and focus on the substance of each case. If you’re concerned about pesticides and transparency, you need to know about the toxins to which your food has been exposed. A GMO label won’t tell you that. And it can lull you into buying a non-GMO product even when the GE alternative is safer.


If you’re like me, you don’t really want to wade into this issue. It’s too big, technical, and confusing. But come with me, just this once. I want to take you backstage, behind those blanket assurances about the safety of genetic engineering. I want to take you down into the details of four GMO fights, because that’s where you’ll find truth. You’ll come to the last curtain, the one that hides the reality of the anti-GMO movement. And you’ll see what’s behind it... 


[Read the full article at]


Twenty years after the debut of genetically engineered food, it’s a travesty that the technology’s commercial applications are still so focused on old-fashioned weedkillers... The relentless efforts of Luddites to block testing, regulatory approval, and commercial development of GMOs are major reasons why more advanced GE products, such as Golden Rice, are still unavailable. The best way to break the herbicide industry’s grip on genetic engineering is to support the technology and push it forward, by telling policymakers, food manufacturers, and seed companies that you want better GMOs.


The USDA’s catalog of recently engineered plants shows plenty of worthwhile options. The list includes drought-tolerant corn, virus-resistant plums, non-browning apples, potatoes with fewer natural toxins, and soybeans that produce less saturated fat. A recent global inventory by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization discusses other projects in the pipeline: virus-resistant beans, heat-tolerant sugarcane, salt-tolerant wheat, disease-resistant cassava, high-iron rice, and cotton that requires less nitrogen fertilizer. Skim the news, and you’ll find scientists at work on more ambitious ideas... 


That’s what genetic engineering can do for health and for our planet. The reason it hasn’t is that we’ve been stuck in a stupid, wasteful fight over GMOs. On one side is an army of quacks and pseudo-environmentalists waging a leftist war on science. On the other side are corporate cowards who would rather stick to profitable weed-killing than invest in products that might offend a suspicious public. The only way to end this fight is to educate ourselves and make it clear to everyone – European governments, trend-setting grocers, fad-hopping restaurant chains, research universities, and biotechnology investors – that we’re ready, as voters and consumers, to embrace nutritious, environmentally friendly food, no matter where it got its genes. We want our GMOs. Now, show us what you can do.


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Something fishy - Economist (2015)

Something fishy - Economist (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Those who fret about overfishing and those who fret about genetically modified (GM) food are often one and the same. Such people will soon be impaled on the horns of a dilemma... Rothamsted Research... are working on technology that could reduce demand for wild-caught fish considerably. It will do so, though, by feeding farmed fish with GM chow.


Apart from the fact that they taste good, oily fish are also desirable because they are healthy fare. There are many things you can remove from your diet in order to improve cardiovascular fitness, but few that you can add. However DHA and EPA – two molecules often referred to as fish oils – buck this trend. They are known to lower blood pressure, to reduce the risk of heart arrhythmia and to slow the growth of fatty plaques that block arteries.


Fish do not, though, actually make fish oils. They get them from their food. The synthesis is done by single-celled algae and the molecules then pass up the food chain... For this reason... farmed fish... get healthy helpings of wild-caught species... in order to boost their DHA and EPA levels. About 10% of what is pulled out of the ocean by fishing boats ends up this way.


Dr Napier’s idea was to take an oil-generating plant (he chose Camelina... a cousin of rape), add a few pertinent genes from creatures that make DHA and EPA naturally, and see what happened. It sounds easy. In fact, it proved quite hard. But after several false starts... tests in greenhouses went well, so last year the researchers planted some modified Camelina outdoors... yields of DHA and EPA from these field crops were as good as those from the greenhouses. There seems no reason but prejudice, therefore, why the modified Camelina (a species picked in part because it cannot accidentally cross-fertilise with existing commercial oilseeds) should not be grown on a much wider scale.


Whether it would succeed, were that done, would depend on an environment at least as ruthless as that of the natural world – the marketplace. But the new crop should be cheap and can plausibly brand itself as environmentally friendly. Indeed, it may actually be healthier than the existing way of feeding farmed fish because, unfortunately for the animal at the end of this particular food chain (ie, Homo sapiens), DHA and EPA are not the only things concentrated by each step of the trophic journey.


Heavy metals such as mercury also come along for the ride. The risks these metals pose can be exaggerated. You have to eat a lot of fish to be poisoned. But some people do worry – often the same people who worry about overfishing and genetic modification – and farmed fish fed the Napier way would be more or less mercury-free. Perhaps, then, it is not a dilemma that the worriers are facing. Maybe it is actually a trilemma.


Original article:


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Genetically modified corn trial in Vietnam - VietNamNet (2015)

Genetically modified corn trial in Vietnam - VietNamNet (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Six genetically modified (GM) corn varieties are being trialed in a midland commune in northern Phu Tho Province. The GM corn being tested... were developed by Dekalb Vietnam Co... and are designed to be more resistant to pests and weeds than natural varieties.


Farmer Luu Van Tran... who was among the first to try the BM corn in his field, said he had no concerns about using the GM seed. Tran said his son was studying at the... Vietnam National University of Agriculture and had looked at available information on the biotechnology. “New corn varieties help save production costs, preserve genuity and improve product quality”... “Traditional corn varieties yield an average 5.2 tonnes a hectare and the GM corn varieties are expected to yield from six to eight tonnes”...


GM corn had been tested by Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and recognised as a “normal” crop plant, and there were no concerns of the GM corn infesting neighbouring farms using traditional varieties. In early March, MARD allowed commercialising three GM corn varieties that help protect crops from insects and weeds. Last August, MARD licensed the first four GM corn varieties for both human consumption, and as animal feed... GM corn is being trialed in hundreds of locations across Vietnam.


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The End of Plenty The Race to Feed a Crowded World - Steiner (2015) - Science

Confronted with a rapidly increasing global population, sluggish crop yield increases, and uncertainty about the future climate, the agricultural community faces the challenge of doubling crop yields by 2050. However, too often, we focus on increased production per se without adequate consideration of other elements that contribute to food insecurity...


Bourne interweaves the legacy of Malthusian demographics – the idea that human populations grow exponentially while food production grows at an arithmetic rate – bringing the “demand” side to the forefront... The root causes of the population explosion – primarily, lack of empowerment of girls and women to determine their own destinies... Investments in education for girls, access to family planning information and contraceptives, and equity in access to agricultural knowledge and land are offered as a far more certain path to feeding future populations than relying solely on investments in technologies to increase production.


The “Green Revolution,” the term given to the flurry of advances that increased agricultural production in the mid-20th century, is one of the most honored and influential agricultural achievements in history. Bourne tells the history of the revolution along with heart-rending stories of its unintended consequences... 


The often-maligned GMO (genetically modified organism) breeding technologies, which have the potential to provide breakthrough advances with broad social benefits, are also highlighted. These include “scuba rice,” which can tolerate extended submergence under water (a common problem...), and “golden rice” that produces vitamin A. Bourne also discusses the elusive goal of developing nitrogen-fixing grasses, which could render expensive and damaging nitrogen fertilizers obsolete...


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Adopting higher-yielding varieties to ensure Chinese food security under climate change in 2050 - Ye &al (2015) - U Gent

Challenges of ensuring food security under climate change require urgent and substantial increase in the focus of research, innovation, transformation of knowledge, and rapid adoption of available technologies.


Here we simulate the effects of the adoption of higher-yielding varieties of rice, wheat and maize crops into the food production systems on China's food security index (FSI, or relative food surplus per capita) in 2050, using the CERES crop models, climate change and a range of socio-economic and agronomic scenarios which were developed following two contrasting development pathways in line with the IPCC A2 and B2 emission scenarios, respectively.


The... results predict a slightly positive effect of climate change on the FSI, but the magnitude of this positive effect cannot compensate the negative effects of population growth, urbanization rate and the rising affluence on the future... FSI. The outcomes of the adoption of higher-yielding varieties show that a systematic adoption of higher-yielding varieties can raise the average FSI values by a margin of 16 and 27 units under the A2 and B2 scenarios, respectively, during the 2030-2050 period...


This suggests that systematic adoption of higher-yield varieties is an effective measure for Chinese agriculture not only to ensure food security but also to build adaptive capacity to climate change in 2050.


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Fate of the insecticidal Cry1Ab protein of GM crops in two agricultural soils as revealed by 14C-tracer studies - Valldor &al (2015) - Appl Microbiol Biotechnol

Fate of the insecticidal Cry1Ab protein of GM crops in two agricultural soils as revealed by 14C-tracer studies - Valldor &al (2015) - Appl Microbiol Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News |

Insecticidal delta-endotoxins of Bacillus thuringiensis are among the most abundant recombinant proteins released by genetically modified (GM) crops into agricultural soils worldwide. However, there is still controversy about their degradation and accumulation in soils.


In this study, 14C-labelled Cry1Ab protein was applied to soil microcosms at two concentrations (14 and 50 μg g−1 soil) to quantify the mineralization of Cry1Ab, its incorporation into the soil microbial biomass, and its persistence in two soils which strongly differed in their texture but not in silt or pH. Furthermore, ELISA was used to quantify Cry1Ab and its potential immunoreactive breakdown products in aqueous soil extracts.


In both soils, 14CO2-production was initially very high and then declined during a total monitoring period of up to 135 days. A total of 16 to 23 % of the 14C activity was incorporated after 29 to 37 days into the soil microbial biomass, indicating that Cry1Ab protein was utilized by microorganisms as a growth substrate. Adsorption in the clay-rich soil was the most important factor limiting microbial degradation; as indicated by higher degradation rates in the more sandy soil, extremely low concentrations of immunoreactive Cry1Ab molecules in the soils’ aqueous extracts and a higher amount of 14C activity bound to the soil with more clay.


Ecological risk assessments of Bt-crops should therefore consider that the very low concentrations of extractable Cry1Ab do not reflect the actual elimination of the protein from soils but that, on the other hand, desorbed proteins mineralize quickly due to efficient microbial degradation.


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This scientist might end animal cruelty – unless GMO hardliners stop him - Mother Jones (2015)

This scientist might end animal cruelty –  unless GMO hardliners stop him - Mother Jones (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Maybe you've watched the undercover video: A farmer presses a hot iron into the scalp of a wide-eyed calf, burning away tissue that is beginning to turn into horns. She writhes, moaning pathetically, and collapses in the dirt.

When Scott Fahrenkrug saw that footage... it made him sick to his stomach. Most of the roughly 9 million dairy cows in the United States have been dehorned – with an iron, clippers, or caustic paste – to protect handlers and other cows. Fahrenkrug, then a professor... decided to do something to stop it... Dairy farmers told him they hated dehorning calves, and they were under pressure from animal welfare groups and customers... to phase it out.

Fahrenkrug knew that some breeds of cattle naturally don't grow horns; the problem is that these "polled" cows traditionally have been lousy milk producers. But in 2012, animal geneticists identified a bit of bovine DNA that controls hornlessness. Fahrenkrug, who specializes in a newly developed genetic modification technique known as precision gene editing, realized it would be a snap to rewrite the corresponding DNA in an embryo of a dairy breed. Presto: Hornless cows that give a lot of milk. So he quit his steady academic job and devoted himself full time to Recombinetics, the biotech startup he'd founded...

Fahrenkrug thinks hornless milk cows are just the start. Recombinetics is tweaking the DNA of a few high-performance cattle breeds so they are more heat tolerant and can thrive in a warming world. He has developed piglets that are resistant to common diseases, and has plans for meatier goats to feed a growing global population. Fahrenkrug's ultimate goal is animals with just the right mix of traits – and much less suffering...

These alterations are pretty straightforward. But Fahrenkrug still must contend with federal regulators who have never approved a genetically modified food animal. His biggest challenge, though, will be to change the minds of the public... Fahrenkrug will have to convince them that it offers the surest and fastest route to more ethical and sustainable farming... 

Many GM crops are now on the market, yet no GM meat animal has ever made it that far. Scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario at one point created the Enviropig, a transgenic hog... that produced less water-fouling phosphate in its manure. That project ran out of funding and backers while awaiting regulatory approval... A fast-growing transgenic salmon... has been in the regulatory process in one form or another for 20 years...

The reason Fahrenkrug thinks his polled cows will be different is because the technology he's using is new. While many older genetically engineered organisms contain genes from a different species... the new technology does not require the use of foreign DNA, and he at first plans to use only variations that already occur in the species. His hornless Holsteins are all cow, the pigs are all pig. What's more, gene editing is extremely precise...

When I toured the office, Fahrenkrug grabbed a photo off the wall of two winsome, knobby-kneed black-and-white calves. Where a typical Holstein calf would have little horn buds, they have no horns, or scars, or swirls of hair where horns used to be. He doesn't want to disclose where the calves are living since he's concerned about anti-GMO activists. But soon, he says, they will be offered as sires for artificial insemination, the breeding method used by most US dairy farmers. Because polled is a dominant gene, their offspring will inherit the hornless trait, and will pass it down to their descendants as well...

Fahrenkrug says he doesn't expect to make much money off of the polled cows – they're more of a test case. He thinks the best market potential will come through adding natural traits that improve sustainability, such as helping animals resist diseases or grow faster without antibiotics... Recombinetics is making male pigs that never go through puberty... 

Because the meat of sexually mature male pigs can develop a funky locker-room smell called boar taint, male piglets raised for pork routinely have their testicles removed to prevent puberty. Like dehorning, it's a painful procedure that costs farmers money. Soon, farmers in some countries will be required to provide pain-killers to their pigs, upping the expense and complexity of castration. But there also could be a genetic solution... As commercial animals, they would save farmers the cost of castration, and they would maintain the superior "feed conversion rate" of prepubertal animals—meaning that they get fatter more quickly on less food...

Fahrenkrug calculates that the $23.4 billion US pig farming business could stand to gain $1 billion by switching to pigs that don't need to be castrated. As a side benefit, there's no way that either gene modification could escape the barn and spread to other animals, since neither animal can reproduce on its own. Right now, the pigs are just protoypes; whether the company invests in making them commercially viable depends on demand, business projections, and what the world thinks about genetically modified polled Holsteins...

"I'm not ignoring the challenges, but I think the moral argument surpasses the challenges," says Fahrenkrug. But it's also conceivable that they will get a pass. In a parallel case, the FDA recently ruled that new potato and apple varieties modified without foreign genes are "as safe as their conventional counterparts"... Fahrenkrug... says he's not planning to seek the FDA's approval under current regulations for animal genetic engineering for the polled cow project. Those rules shouldn't apply... because it doesn't create any features that don't already occur: Farmers can already breed hornless dairy cows.

Fahrenkrug thinks that organic farmers have the most to gain from his technology, because it offers a path to healthy, high-producing animals without using hormones or antibiotics... There's little doubt that many dairy farmers are interested in converting over to polled genetics. Until recently, there were very few high-quality polled dairy bulls, because breeding them that way is so slow and expensive... Dairy producers can't build their herds on a single animal without getting into trouble with inbreeding.

Recombinetics, in contrast, could edit the polled gene variant in dozens or hundreds of genetically diverse bulls. And that would be just the beginning: With this technology, it will be able to incorporate valuable traits from obscure breeds all around the world, developing new breeds that are hardy and healthy without the slow, unpredictable work of crossbreeding. Fahrenkrug is confident that even the people who don't currently like the idea of genetic modification will come around once they see the benefits... "I'm not ignoring the challenges, but I think the moral argument surpasses the challenges... It's going to happen." 



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Why everyone who is sure about a food philosophy is wrong - Washington Post (2015)

Why everyone who is sure about a food philosophy is wrong - Washington Post (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

There’s an unbreachable divide between advocates of modern conventional agriculture and, essentially, everyone else, from the mainstream (organic, local, anti-GMO) to the less-so (biodynamics, permaculture, agroforestry). The parties are entrenched, the tone is partisan. But I think we ought to be able to get along, because all hard-core advocates of this or that food philosophy have two things in common: They’re paying attention, and they’re wrong. 

It’s great that they’re paying attention, because most people sure aren’t, and we’re not going to get much traction toward improving our food supply if nobody cares. So that’s good. Being wrong, though, isn’t so good. And they’re wrong for the simple reason that food and philosophy don’t mix. 

Here’s why. Food is a constant tug-of-war between people and planet. We can’t feed ourselves without doing environmental harm. “Agriculture costs us no matter what... Every option has trade-offs.” Food production takes a toll, and neither maximizing the food nor minimizing the toll is a workable response. No one principle can reliably tell us how to make those trade-offs, because every situation is different.  

Which doesn’t mean there are no good ideas. Take organic agriculture, based on the idea of building soil health. Everyone – literally, everyone – agrees that building soil health is important. But if you take that idea and build a system around it, a system with rules and prohibitions and certifications, you take away the flexibility to make case-by-case calls. Heavy use of chemical fertilizers can lead to water-polluting runoff, but that doesn’t mean the best alternative is no chemical fertilizers at all.


By the same token, the Green Revolution, the period from the 1940s to the 1960s when new crop varieties and advances in irrigation and fertilization transformed agriculture, was responsible for astonishing increases in yields. But... the Green Revolution never talked about the quality of the soil... I think it’s worthwhile to take a look at the good and the bad of the kinds of agricultural approaches that attract the most attention:

Organic has a lot to like – the focus on soil health, the use of manure for fertilization, the emphasis on composting and biodiversity. There are also some minimum standards for animal comfort and well-being. But the idea that fertilizers and pesticides should be chosen for their “naturalness” rather than their intrinsic toxicity makes no agricultural sense. And the federal requirement that any animal given antibiotics be removed from the organic system is troubling, as it gives farmers a financial disincentive to treat sick livestock and plays into unsubstantiated fears that any antibiotic use in livestock puts human health at risk. Yields are also consistently 10 to 20 percent lower than conventional-farming yields, and prices are higher.

Locally grown food gives consumers – and kids – a place to go to visit a farm and meet a farmer, or a pig. Although I don’t know of any research measuring whether farmers markets help foster a sense of community, customers often say they do.... But farms that grow a diverse product line, which many farmers-market-style farms do, generally aren’t as efficient, both because they don’t get the benefits of specialization (expertise, equipment and soil optimization) and because most climates and soil types aren’t suited to a wide variety of crops. Although the distance food travels from grower to consumer is cut, “food miles” generally account for only about 10 percent of the environmental impact of food production, and that’s easily made up in increased efficiency from growing at a larger scale, in a more hospitable area... 

Anti-GMO doesn’t have much on the plus side. The most serious problem associated with GMOs is the weeds that have developed a resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, and the anti-GMO movement prefers to fixate on that and ignore the many beneficial genetic modifications, such as disease resistance, which is hugely avantageous for papayas and, potentially, for other plants. It’s certainly true that genetic modification has contributed to the widespread planting of just a few staples (corn and soy, primarily), as the companies that develop the technologies have sought to recoup their investment by modifying the most widely grown crops, but that’s true of all agricultural technologies...


As those technologies become more widely adopted (and go off patent), other crops will start to see the benefits (and the pipeline is full of interesting, exciting, planet- and people-friendly GM innovations). Often, wholesale opposition to GMOs is based primarily on the argument that we don’t yet know enough about them, when in fact we know a great deal. Rejection is simply not a constructive approach to our food system...

Bottom line: There’s no one way to feed the world. Yet the public conversation about agriculture seems to break down along philosophical lines, and not always civilly. There’s a better way. Want to fix our food system? Ditch the philosophy. No more unifying principle. Call off the dogma. Instead, think small. 

The best way to tackle the tug-of-war between people and planet is to aim to improve agriculture in ways that benefit both. “There are ways to grow more food, mitigate climate change and improve the environment... They’re win-win-win strategies”...

Technology also brings win-win tools. Bt cotton, a genetically engineered type that has a built-in pesticide, has increased yields and decreased the need for sprayed insecticide. Precise new tools allow farmers to divide fields into small sections and custom-fertilize each section according to its needs, which can help maximize yields and reduce run-off. 

“Conservation agriculture, organic, agroforestry... they all have places where they work and places where they fail. There are 300,000 soil types. It’s impossible to have one system that works for all of these, not to mention climates and socio-economic situations.” Just to make it harder, those strategies also have to work for the farmer. Activists, policy-makers and journalists can opine all they want, but it’s farmers who decide whether to use cover crops, or invest in new tools for precision fertilizing, or go organic. And even if a strategy does both increase food and decrease harm, we can’t expect farmers to implement it if they have to take a financial hit to do it.

Which could explain why I’ve found that farmers are less dogmatic than the rest of us. All the farmers I’ve ever talked to are happy to explain why they make the decisions they do but are quick to admit there are lots of ways to do it differently. Nobody knows the shortcomings of the organic standard, or GMO corn, or no-till, better than the farmer who has put it into practice. But the farther you get from the farm, the louder the voices get... It’s when those ideas are used to paint the world’s agricultural landscape in black-and-white that the trouble starts. The solutions to the problem of feeding people and protecting the planet are endlessly and irredeemably gray.


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Social Media Discourse and Genetically Modified Organisms - Munro &al (2015) - JSMS

The objective of this research was to analyze themes of the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) debate to investigate if sentiment could be segregated by geography, and in the GMO debate contest, to recognize how individuals interact with each other to form online  connections. In all datasets, sentiment surrounding GMOs was negative. Via Netlytic (a cloud-based social media and networks analyzer) Twitter data was collected in real time... During this period, significant anti-GMO interactions were formed within networks, reinforcing the importance of social media in issue analysis... 


The process for GMOs (altering the genetic material of the organism) was discovered in the 1970s... Modern genetic engineering techniques facilitate simple gene transfer from one organism to a nonrelated species... The first generation crop offered natural resistance to pests providing opportunities for growers to choose this GMO crop rather than spray pesticides. The second generation promised to provide opportunities for health and nutritional benefits...


When disconnect is present between what is considered acceptable in science and what is socially acceptable, the result is social magnification by the public group. As individuals develop opinions, they may not align with their country’s regulations. The political and cultural implications of GMOs also have been geographic – each side of the Atlantic has different labeling regulations for these products; these differences have led to anxiety.


The debate over genetically modified foods, which started in the late 1990s between the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA), became a popular conversation topic... In the USA, the debate created anti-European sentiment due to negative European attitudes toward GMOs. Opposing views and policies caused this debate to become a significant political and cultural debate. Residents of the EU seem to have negative sentiment toward GMOs. On the other hand some Americans see it as a practical approach to innovation... 


This research relies heavily on the developments at the Social Media Lab (SML) located at Dalhousie University... to collect and analyze large text volumes from social media networks and websites such as Twitter to further examine text, name networks and chain networks... 


Thursdays and Fridays as well as holidays seemed to show increased tweets posted. This could suggest that these users are not professional Twitter users... Non-professional users post and reply to content they feel passionate about or to which they feel they can relate. 


The GMO debate... is significant because it will have future effects on the agriculture industry and those involved within the industry. Since the popularization of social media... this platform has become a locus modal of anti-GMO discussion. Although the broad analysis of Social Mention shows some supportive discussion of GMOs, the narrow analysis of the more egalitarian social media tool Twitter, demonstrates an almost unanimous negative attitude toward GMOs.


This leads to a conclusion that Twitter users do not represent the broader difference in opinion found in other media... In all datasets sentiment was negative; nothing was posted to promote the research or the marketing of GMOs. It is possible that those individuals who feel positive toward GMOs may choose not to participate in social media websites and may seek other sources to demonstrate GMOs as an innovative opportunity... Those individuals who oppose strongly to GMOs will continue to be active with social media websites such as Twitter because tweets are publicly available and information is spread quickly... 

Social media have been demonstrated in research to produce real world effects. Cinematic releases which receive negative social media discussion have lower box office results. Governments and corporations have reacted time and time again to negative social media sentiment to change policies, procedures and products...


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Proceedings of the Nutrition Society - GM foods: is there a way forward? - Jones (2015) - Proc Nutr Soc

Proceedings of the Nutrition Society - GM foods: is there a way forward? - Jones (2015) - Proc Nutr Soc | Ag Biotech News |

There are many quality targets in cereals that could generate step-change improvements in nutritional or food-processing characteristics. For instance, levels of acrylamide, soluble and insoluble fibre, antioxidants, allergens and intolerance factors in food are, to a large extent, determined by the genetics of the raw materials used.


However, improvements to these traits pose significant challenges to plant breeders. For some traits... there is simply a lack of natural genetic variation in commercially useful germplasm. One strategy to overcome the latter hindrance is to use wide crosses with more exotic germplasm; however, this can bring other difficulties such as yield loss and linkage drag of deleterious alleles.


As DNA sequencing becomes cheaper and faster, it drives the research fields of reverse genetics and functional genomics which in turn will enable the incorporation of desirable traits into crop varieties via molecular breeding and biotechnology.


I will discuss the evolution of these techniques from conventional genetic modification to more recent developments in targeted gene editing and the potential of biotechnology to complement conventional breeding methods. I will also discuss the role of risk assessment and regulation in the commercialisation of GM crops.


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GMOs, Future Generations, and the Limits of the Precautionary Principle - Purves (2015) - Social Philosophy Today

GMOs, Future Generations, and the Limits of the Precautionary Principle - Purves (2015) - Social Philosophy Today | Ag Biotech News |

The Precautionary Principle is frequently invoked as a guiding principle in environmental policy. In this article, I raise a couple of problems for the application of the Precautionary Principle when it comes to policies concerning Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).


First, I argue that if we accept Stephen Gardiner’s sensible conditions under which it is appropriate to employ the Precautionary Principle for emerging technologies, it is unclear that GMOs meet those conditions. In particular, I contend that GM crops hold the potential to provide more than a mere bonus; they hold the (admittedly uncertain) potential to prevent serious harm to millions of people. This means that, if proponents of the Precautionary Principle take prevention of harm as seriously as avoidance of harm, then precaution may tell in favor of GMOs rather than against them.


Second, I observe that the use of GM technology in the developing world is likely to be identity-affecting; it will cause people to exist who otherwise would not have. I argue that this undermines Precautionary Principle-based objections to GM technology that appeal to the potentially harmful effects of GMOs on future generations.


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Scientists stopping little insects from becoming big problem for corn growers - Clemson U

Scientists stopping little insects from becoming big problem for corn growers - Clemson U | Ag Biotech News |

Reay-Jones is conducting ongoing research involving genetically modified corn expressing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins. Produced by the plant as opposed to being applied by external means, these toxins are effective against corn borers while also suppressing or controlling corn earworms, fall armyworms and several other pests. Bt corn seed first hit the U.S. market in 1996, and several products expressing different toxins sold by large seed companies are currently used.


“We are continuing to look at how injury from these insects impacts the yield of Bt hybrids... Over the years, the seed companies have released hybrids with new Bt toxins or hybrids expressing multiple Bt toxins (known as pyramided Bt corn), and it’s important that we continue to test them, as toxins vary in how they affect corn earworms and fall armyworms. There’s a real benefit in having university scientists provide unbiased recommendations”... 


Reay-Jones and his collaborators across the nation are charged with keeping a close eye on changes in susceptibility to Bt toxins. When an insecticide is first used, a small proportion of the insect population might survive exposure because of a particular genetic makeup. With repeated use of an insecticide, selection pressure can lead to an increase in the population of resistant insects. What this means to corn growers is that there is always a risk that the proportion of the ravenous pests that has already developed resistance to the Bt toxins will grow from relatively small to catastrophically large.


A recent study... showed that Bt corn expressing Cry1Ab toxin had less of an effect on corn earworm now than it did in the late 1990s, suggesting that changes are happening in the field in regards to how susceptible corn earworm is to this Bt toxin. “Although Bt corn expressing Cry1Ab was developed to control the European corn borer, it also provides some control of corn earworm feeding on corn ears... Some laboratory data and our recent study suggest that there have been changes in susceptibility of corn earworm to this toxin in some parts of the country”...


Though detrimental to corn earworms, the toxins produced by Bt corn hybrids are harmless to humans...


“Eggs are laid on corn silks, and young larvae quickly enter the ear, which makes them particularly difficult to control with applications of insecticide... So having the plant express the insecticide can be an effective way of controlling the pest, depending on which Bt corn trait is planted. Growers that plant Bt corn are also required to plant a portion of their total corn acreage with a non-Bt corn hybrid as part of an insecticide resistance management strategy to help delay the development of resistance. The efficacy of Bt corn needs to be sustained by complying with these mandated refuge requirements. On-going studies aim to detect resistance before field failures occur, as well as provide information on pest biology that will help to improve resistance management strategies.”


Original article:


H. zea may be developing resistance to Cry1Ab in corn, although these results are not comprehensive, given the limited sampling period, size, and geography. We also found that the negative impacts on larval growth and development were greater in corn hybrids with pyramided traits compared with single traits.


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Organic farming needs direction to be sustainable - U Oregon (2015)

Large-scale organic farming operations, based on a review of almost a decade of data from 49 states, are not reducing greenhouse gas emissions... The increasing numbers of commercialized organic operations, which now make up just 3 percent of total agricultural lands, appear to contribute to increased and more intense levels of greenhouse gases coming from each acre of farmland...

While the findings appear troubling... the study really points to the need for a reassessment of where the organic-food movement wants to go and how to get there. He suggests stricter adherence to sustainability-driven farm practices and increased governmental oversight of the profit-motivated move toward upscale, certified organic production.

"The big questions are what are we are doing when we shift from conventional to organic production, and what are the environmental consequences... This study says that the organic farming industry is in the early stages. So far we don't see any mitigating effect on greenhouse gasses"... higher emissions are likely to continue unless actions are taken to correct course...

The U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated certification standards for organic production... in 1990, but as organic farming moved toward large corporate operations the use of USDA-recommended practices had declined... As operations grow... it takes more machinery to do the work. The trend... is for a focus on single rather than rotated crops, an increased use of organic pesticides and herbicides and the importing of manure-based fertilizers from other locations...

"The issue of agriculture and climate change doesn't derive only from technology... a lot of the issue is the social context in which we relate to food – the idea that overproducing food at a level exceeding what we need – for both forms of agricultural production."


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"As operations grow... it takes more machinery to do the work. The trend... is for a focus on single rather than rotated crops, an increased use of organic pesticides and herbicides and the importing of manure-based fertilizers from other locations" >> There can be less sustainable organic operations and more sustainable "conventional" ones -- and vice versa... There is nothing per se more sustainable about a product that has an "organic" label on it. 

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U.S. to review agricultural biotech regulations - Science (2015)

The White House is ready to modernize the rules that govern inventions in agricultural biotechnology... The multiyear review process should clarify the roles of the agencies now involved in determining the safety of genetically altered plants and animals: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Another goal: to update the regulatory process in light of precise gene-editing methods, such as CRISPR, which may not require the same review as traditional genetic engineering.


Many researchers and entrepreneurs who have struggled to navigate the current system welcome the planned review... Uncertainty about safety and regulatory requirements has kept many academics and small companies from developing new products... 


The federal framework for reviewing agricultural biotech products was laid out in 1986 and updated in 1992 – 2 years before the slow-ripening Flavr Savr tomato became the first genetically modified (GM) food to hit the market. Since then, new gene-modification strategies have emerged... 


The outdated framework has resulted in some puzzling regulatory paths... For example, a GM sterile mosquito developed by Oxitec to reduce the spread of dengue fever qualifies as an animal drug, and is currently under review at FDA... Meanwhile, commercially sold houseplants that glow thanks to a firefly gene weren't reviewed by either EPA or USDA... 


The new White House initiative creates a working group of officials from the three agencies to help clarify who is in charge of a given product. Within a year, that group will update the current regulatory framework and develop a long-term strategy to ensure agency evaluations use sound science.


How, or even whether, to review products created by CRISPR and similar methods is likely to be a high-profile issue. Rather than introducing whole genes at multiple, unpredictable locations, as earlier methods do, these new techniques can change precise points in the genome, which some argue reduces safety concerns...


Another responsibility of the new working group: developing a plan for periodic “horizon-scanning” to detect new biotech breakthroughs long before they reach a regulator's desk.


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German farming group KTG sows more soybeans in Europe, sees growing demand - Reuters (2015)

German farming company KTG Agrar AG has expanded its soybean sowings in Europe for the 2015 harvest, with large demand being experienced for crops free of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), the company's chief executive said.

KTG, one of Europe's few listed farm operators, has sown about 11,000 hectares of GMO-free soybeans in Romania, Germany and Lithuania, up from 7,000 hectares harvested last year...

"Large retail chains in Germany are compelling their meat suppliers to guarantee they are using GMO-free material in their own supply chain and I think this will be a long-term trend... I see a massive potential for GMO-free soybeans."

The EU imports about 13 million tonnes of soybeans annually and only produces about 1.8 million, with farmers preferring to grow the oilseeds rapeseed and sunflower seed.

With both North and South American soybean imports largely GMOs, the EU imports large volumes of GMO-free beans from India which could be replaced by local supplies... 

KTG started its first trial soybean plantings with 50 hectares in 2010... they need a lot of sun but said good commercial yields could still be achieved in Europe... 

In May KTG posted full-year sales revenue up 42 percent to 234.1 million euros and pretax earnings (EBIT) up 55 percent to 37.1 million. Hofreiter re-affirmed the company expects continued strong growth in 2015. "I think that we will certainly break the 250 million euro sales level"...


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

It's not as if "GMO-free" wouldn't be about money... It's rather a profitable business -- so profitable that it makes economic sense to cultivate such crops in suboptimal climates... (Even if poor resource allocation makes much less sense when scarcity and sustainability aspects are considered.) 

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EFSA clarifies data requirements for GM plant risk assessment - EFSA (2015)

EFSA clarifies data requirements for GM plant risk assessment - EFSA (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

New EFSA guidance clarifies the data needs for the agronomic and phenotypic characterisation of genetically modified (GM) plants. The document complements existing guidance on data requirements for the risk assessment of GM plants. It provides applicants seeking market approval for a GM plant in the European Union with recommendations on how to generate, analyse and interpret agronomic and phenotypic data of the GM plant. 

Any risk assessment of GM plants includes the comparison of the agronomic and phenotypic characteristics of the GM plant with its conventional counterpart. This comparison aims to detect differences in the plants’ observable appearance such as height and colour – so called phenotypic characteristics – and its agronomic characteristics such as yield and pesticide tolerance. Such differences are not automatically considered as evidence for adverse effects... 

EFSA actively engaged with stakeholders in an open scientific debate on the draft guidance. Following a six-week public consultation, over 40 representatives of national risk assessment bodies, academic institutions, industry representatives and one non-governmental organisation discussed their input at a workshop... The draft guidance was also discussed at the open plenary meeting of the Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms... and at the meeting of the Scientific Network of Member States for Risk Assessment of GMOs...  

EFSA considered all feedback carefully. Some input triggered substantial revisions of the guidance (see technical report). As Dr Elisabeth Waigmann, the head of the GMO unit at EFSA, explains: “The input we received from our stakeholders was very useful. Our guidance has gained in clarity, technical precision and scientific quality. It will be an essential instrument for the risk assessment of GM plants.”



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Breeding to Optimize Agriculture in a Changing World - Wang &al (2015) - Crop J

The world is changing! The population continues to grow rapidly, and societal behavior (including consumption habits) is experiencing rapid evolution, particularly in developing countries. Demand for and pressure on resources (mainly land and water) continues to increase... Climate changes pose further and less-predictable challenges... An increase of more than 70% food is needed by 2050 to meet the demands of the increasing population...


Crop management and breeding are the pillars of efforts to tackle the present and future challenges of food production. China and the European Union (EU) face common challenges in the changing world. Both are dedicating great R&D efforts to agriculture, food security, and food safety, to increase food production and improve product quality in an environmentally sustainable manner. In view of the common challenges, a three-year EU-China project called “Breeding to Optimize Chinese Agriculture (OPTICHINA)” was launched in June of 2011 as a new strategy that may serve as a model to reinforce systematic cooperation on agricultural research... 

In recent decades, breeding has contributed a greater than 50% increase of the world’s food crop production. However, in a changing world, an urgent issue is to accelerate plant breeding for increased yield potential and better adaptation to drought, heat, and other abiotic stresses together with the surge of new biotic challenges, so as to meet the future demand for agricultural production. The only viable way to solve the issue is to raise the productivity of existing farmland, but it is a great challenge to increase food production and improve product quality in an environmentally sustainable manner. To reach this goal, plant breeding requires intensive and integrated application of a wide range of sciences and technologies.


To meet the challenge, we must develop more productive, stable, and nutritious varieties of agricultural crops, which incorporate both high intrinsic yield potential and resilience to climatic and biotic constraints, while improving the efficiency of resource use. To ensure the success of future plant breeding, we must adopt a multidisciplinary approach combining the field expertise of breeders with advanced phenotyping based on a physiological understanding of the crop, molecular tools and approaches (such as MAS, transgenic, TILLING, omics, and genomewide selection) provided by biotechnology, and the support of advanced data analysis and management.


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The Unintended Consequences of Technological Change: Winners and Losers from GM Technologies and the Policy Response in the Organic Food Market - Smyth &al (2015) - Sustainability

The Unintended Consequences of Technological Change: Winners and Losers from GM Technologies and the Policy Response in the Organic Food Market - Smyth &al (2015) - Sustainability | Ag Biotech News |

It is often said that innovations create winners and losers. All innovations are somewhat disruptive, but some have more distributed effects... Yet, how much do losers actually lose?


Organic farmers frequently like to publicly announce that they are the losers following the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops, yet consumers in search of non-GM products have helped increase demand for organic products, something that would not have occurred in the absence of GM crops. Are organic farmers really losers?


This article lays out the argument that were it not for the commercialization of GM crop varieties in the mid-1990s, organic production and food sectors would not be at the level they enjoy today. That is, the commercialization of GM crops has made the organic industry better off than had GM crops not been commercialized.


Theoretical modelling of the organic benefits is complemented by supportive market data. The article concludes that in spite of numerous vocal offerings about the adverse impacts suffered by the organic industry due to GM crop production, the organic industry has gained significantly from that which they vociferously criticize... 


These positive benefits should be investigated and included in socio-economic public policy assessments of GM products. It is an area where further applied research is warranted. 


While a hot topic in high-income countries, this policy issue has wider application and impact on global food security. The eNGO [environmental NGO] community has lobbied and pressured many developing countries to implement broad socio-economic considerations as part of their domestic biosafety regulatory framework, ostensibly to protect potential losers in those countries.


In Mali, for instance, eNGOs encouraged the government to enact regulations that will not allow any negative socio-economic impacts to occur from the commercialization of GM crops. Innovation is not possible within this type of regulatory environment as every new production possibility will inevitably displace older, inefficient technologies, creating losers among those not able or nor willing to adopt, in cross markets and in the input markets.


The encouragement of such policy development by eNGOs ultimately fosters increased food insecurity. When small landholder farmers are denied access to innovations, they are forced to maintain existing low-skilled, labour-intensive work that they have undertaken for centuries, while landholders in neighbouring countries are able to reap the benefits of GM crops, including greater yields, increased profits, rising household incomes and enhanced food security.


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Strengthening GM risk assessment: new EFSA guidance explained - EFSA (2015)

Strengthening GM risk assessment: new EFSA guidance explained - EFSA (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

New EFSA guidance identifies data that companies need to supply when applying for renewed authorisation to import genetically modified (GM) plants for food and feed into the European Union (EU). The European Commission grants authorisations to place GM food and feed on the European market for a period of ten years. Companies that want to continue importing GM food and feed into the EU need to renew the initial authorisation.


The new guidance ensures a sound scientific basis for the risk assessment of GM food and feed in the interest of the European consumer. EFSA’s task is to evaluate the validity of previous risk assessments of these GM products. It needs to verify if any changes, new hazards, modified exposure scenarios or new scientific uncertainties have surfaced. On that basis, EFSA advises the European Commission and Member States who decide whether or not to renew the authorisation...

EFSA has to assess whether the conclusions of the original risk assessment of the respective GM food or feed are still valid. Has anything new come up that would have an impact on the original conclusions? This question needs to be answered. Consequently, the information that companies have to provide for renewal differs from what they had to provide for the original application for authorisation. The new guidance details what kind of information they have to submit in support of their application for renewal authorisation... 

Over the years as scientific research has moved on, more information has become available on the respective GM food or feed. Companies have to search for and provide all relevant new information which has become available during the years of commercialisation. The required information includes new scientific publications and all unpublished information available to them. They also need to provide all post-market monitoring reports including from environmental monitoring, where available... 

GM food and feed listed under Regulation (EC) 1829/2003 are within the scope of this new guidance. These include all those plants that have already been assessed by EFSA – such as maize, oilseed rape, soybean and cotton. It is important to point out that these authorisations are for the import or processing of GM food or feed, not for the cultivation of the GM plant.

EFSA consulted the public and EU Member States on its draft guidance. What did those consultations bring to the process? Consultation with the public and with Member States ensures an open scientific debate on the work of EFSA, in this case on the development of this guidance. We saw opposite opinions expressed at these consultations. On one side we were criticised for requesting too much, on the other we were called on to ask for much more information. But, clearly, we have to remain within the confines of the law. In any case, these consultations helped us to be clearer with the wording in our guidance. We managed to explain several issues better... 


The guidance will shape a large part of EFSA’s work in the area of GMOs for many years to come. Many authorisations given over the last ten years will have to be renewed in the coming years.



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